On November 18th, 1998, the first trailer for The Phantom Menace debuted in select theaters across 26 states - it was the first time a Star Wars trailer had debuted in almost two decades, and the first to premiere during the internet age. Despite this, it was still the early days of the 'net, and movie studios weren't exactly great about releasing trailers online (this is SEVERAL years before the rise of Youtube), so most people had to actually buy tickets to movies to see movie trailers. Movies like A Bug's Life, Meet Joe Black, The Waterboy, and The Siege all got some minor boosts by people buying tickets JUST to see the trailer, and then leaving immediately after.
Fun fact - literally no one has ever sat through Meet Joe Black ever in history.
And while we have the benefit of hindsight, at the time, the reaction to the trailer was overwhelming positive. After all, how could it not be? It's a pretty good trailer, especially considering the context: the first new Star Wars film in about 15 years, one that will begin a new trilogy chronicling the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, and using all kinds of fancy new technology to show us Jedis in their prime and the badass lightsaber battles we could only have imagined? Hell yeah.
At an afternoon screening of "Meet Joe Black" yesterday at the Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park, fans -- mostly male -- sat in anticipation, reading comic books and scholarly texts about cinema. But at least a dozen people left before the film started. It wasn't the thought of three hours of Brad Pitt as Death that scared them away: They had come just for the trailer.
"Unbelievable," said a visibly elated Rob McNeese, 24, an Arlington college student. "I consider myself a harsh critic, but after the trailer I was applauding."
"It's going to be incredible," said Jim Herr, 31, after quietly escaping from "Meet Joe Black." Herr, who predicts the film will knock "Titanic" off its No. 1 worldwide box office perch, heard about the advance screening at a funeral.
From the moment the "Lucasfilm Ltd." logo appeared, the crowd was cheering. From the serene, opening shots of (presumably) Naboo, Tatooine, and Coruscant to the action shots from all over, we were glued. As this is one of probably 8 thousand reviews to be posted in the last 24 hours, I'll stick to the highlights:
- A lot of Japanese influence with Coruscant and the young Queen's (Natalie Portman) costume and make-up.
- Darth Maul is one incredible looking villian. Dressed all in black, his head is coverend in a demonic red and and black pattern and he fights with a short staff with a light saber at either end.
- There's a shot of R2D2 and C3PO together where C3PO has no outer shell.
- Jar Jar Binks, the all CGI sidekick looks pretty cool.
- The folks at Kenner will be busy as we see a whole bunch of future action figures and ships.
- Yoda's still a muppet, but a younger, more cherubic one. (Isn't he only around 40 years younger than in "Empire" here? He's supposed to live for centuries so should he look that different?)
- Thankfully, we don't see much of the actual plot.
So, does it appear to live up to our expectations? Yup. As "Jedi" was an indication Lucas was burned out on the whole thing, he seems to have spent a great deal of time considering why "Star Wars" worked as well as it did. I think he figured it out. "Episode I" feels like "A New Hope", only on a grander scale. While there are some comic relief CGI characters on display, it doesn't appear anything like "Jedi: the Muppet Movie", and while "Empire Strikes Back" is a fine film with more character depth, you can't get lost in it like the first one. That's what I see the man in the back of the theater going for, right here. I can't wait to see it. I hope he went home to the ranch a happy man, tonight. His job is done.
-Ron Wells, FilmThreat
All around me, there were actual tears of joy. There was excited hollering. There were hugs, people laughing uncontrollably. As the haze passed and I realized there was a movie playing, one thing kept going through my head.
Thank you, George. Thank you, George. Thank you, George.
As I prepare to sleep now, visions of the prequel dance behind my eyes. I am exhausted, but I know sleep won't come easy. Now that the worst wait is over, the final stretch begins. Six months. I could do that standing on my head. Whatever we're going to see in those theaters next May, it's going to be something special. More importantly, the experience of seeing it with all of you will make it even more special. I am thankful I saw it with that crowd tonight. There was love pouring out of everyone in that theater. There was joy, pure and simple, over the viewing of the footage. I felt like I was among family.
It was a wonderful, magical night, the kind that keeps me going to the movies, and all I can say to sum it up is what I said before.
Thank you, George. Thank you, George. Thank you, George
It should be mentioned that Ain't It Cool News (then with the slash-filled URL "aint-it-cool-news.com") was one of the main arbiters of geekdom in those early days of the internet (and if you want to know what the site looked like 16 years ago....just go to the site right now. IT'S PRETTY MUCH THE SAME), and they were BEYOND onboard with everything The Phantom Menace was putting out. Eventually, they would become somewhat infamous for being too optimistic and positive about every geek property that fell into their laps (such as Harry Knowles' enthusiastic review of the Matthew Broderick Godzilla, which has been wiped off the internet it seems, but which he apologizes for here), and Episode One serves as a reminder - here's their review of the script:
On the story as a whole:
You can't possibly know how textured and wonderful the story Lucas has to tell is going to be. The thing that makes THE PHANTOM MENACE possibly my favorite STAR WARS story so far (on paper, mind you) is the details. The time off has done something unexpected to Lucas as a storyteller -- it made him better. Considering how he's always doubted himself as a writer, I think it showed remarkable confidence in not putting this script through another writer, someone who might have diluted our return to this place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
On Jar Jar Binks:
This script balances the humor with honest, direct writing that gives Jar Jar (dare I say?) a soul. He may be a sidekick, but here's betting that Jar Jar Binks becomes one of the biggest EPISODE I stars once audiences get their real introduction.
On Anakin Skywalker:
God, I love this kid. It makes me feel sick from grief when I realize that he's going to be Darth Vader someday, hated, feared, a symbol of evil. This kid is a good, pure spirit, beloved by the people around him. ...If he works, this will be one of the most textured kids roles in history.
On the ending:
The new technology is nice, but these films feel more like your average indie than a studio action blockbuster.
It's totally cool to get excited for this, but keep in mind: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just another movie, and doesn't deserve any kind of free pass just because it's a new Star Wars film. And while the trailer is very nicely done and exciting, that's not necessarily indicative of the final product - trailers are marketing materials, and some of the best trailers ever have wound up being pretty mediocre or even terrible movies (which we noted in Awesome Trailers for Terrible Movies - Part 1 and Part 2).
Basically, what I'm saying is - don't let rose-colored glasses cloud your judgment here.
LOL JK NEW STAR WARS TRAILER! STOP WORRYIN' AND START GETTIN' HYPED!
But seriously, this trailer is pretty dope: